Health secretary Matt Hancock today said he was confident the NHS contact-tracing app would be launched by 1 June despite technical issues that have already caused delays.
Hancock said the app, which uses Bluetooth to track and trace coronavirus infections, would be in place to allow an easing of lockdown measures without risking a second spike in cases.
The Covid-19 smartphone app is currently being tested on the Isle of Wight, but security minister James Brokenshire earlier today admitted it was suffering from technical issues.
The government previously said the app would be ready in mid-May. Brokenshire today said there was “no definitive timeline” for its launch.
Ministers have previously said the technology would play a key role in tracking the spread of coronavirus in the UK and enabling an easing of restrictions.
But Hancock today emphasised the role of the country’s traditional contact-tracing system, which uses phone and email to alert people who have been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for the virus.
“The app is working in the Isle of Wight,” he said. “We want to make sure this whole system lands well and supports the ability safely to make changes to social distancing rules.”
Professor John Newton of Public Health England said the app was not required before conventional track and trace systems could be launched.
“They are distinct but complementary, and it is perfectly okay, in fact possibly advantageous, to introduce one before the other,” he said.
The government has now hired 24,000 people to manually track Covid-19 contacts.
The confusion over the NHS app came as tech giants Google and Apple today launched their own software allowing the development of tracing apps.
The firms said 22 public health agencies from 22 countries and some US states had asked to test the system, and the launch will raise questions about whether the UK will continue to pursue its own approach.